“If I told you that I came from the future, would you laugh?” Review of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

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If a good movie is hard to come by, surely a good anime movie is like one in a million; what a relief then, because for now, my long search is over – The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is that one in a million. Dubbed in some quarters as the anti-Ghibli, it offers a refreshing emphasis on characters over expensive-looking visuals, and as a result, we are left with a film that may look decidedly uncinematic, yet engages us on core emotional level above and beyond likes of Advent Children; basically, a rare triumph of good old fashioned story telling. Continue reading ““If I told you that I came from the future, would you laugh?” Review of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”

Polling Yoko Kanno’s best soundtrack?

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I’m a big fan of Yoko Kanno’s music; be it the atmospheric electronica of Macross Plus (1994) or the acoustic style contributed to Wolf’s Rain (2003), it’s hard to ignore the core emotional beauty of her work; a quality that, not matter which musical style she borrows, ensures that she captures our attention (and often, hearts too!). For the means of this poll, I picked out three series which distinctly represent Kanno’s diverse talent.

For example, lets consider her soundtrack for Vision of Escaflowne (1996), an epic and exciting orchestral set (“Dance of Curse”) that emphasizes fantastical themes of life-changing conflict. Then we have Cowboy Bebop (1998), arguably a career defining fusion of American jazz and blues; cinematic, moody and bitter-sweet (“Adieu”, “Space Lion”, “Rain”, “Blue”), it’s a superlative collection of songs that undoubtedly have their own story to tell and stand alone as great music, regardless of Cowboy Bebop itself. Finally, we have Stand Alone Complex (2002); this time it’s an interesting mash-up of her previous work. Being scored for science fiction anime, there is an overriding use of up-tempo and rousing electronica (“Cybermind”, “Rise”) as well as dreamy vocal tracks (“Christmas in the Silent Forest”, “Psychodelic Soul”, “Mikansei Love Story”) that echo an ethereal trip into a starry-eyed unknown. For the means of this vote, I ended up plumping for “Cowboy Bebop”, but I particularly love a lot of her work for “Stand Alone Complex” and if just for beautiful “Voices”, I was tempted to include Macross Plus too.

At the time of writing, Kanno’s most recent effort is Darker than Black (2007); being another attempt to capture an American rock feel, it’s doomed to living the shadow of Cowboy Bebop and rarely reaches the emotional heights we expect of her craft, only “ScatCat”, “Kuro”, “Deadly Work” and “In no Piano” hinting at the beating heart hiding beneath the superficial front of up-tempo, slick rock and muzak.

It’s also interesting to note that whether coincidence or not, a high number of Kanno’s soundtracks have contributed to landmark anime productions; I need not extol the virtues of the likes of Cowboy Bebop or Escaflowne, but I do wonder if her presence elevates and influences those around her to create the kind of anime that will be remembered for years to come.

Demonic rumbles as claymores get squished in episode 21

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I’m really digging Claymore at the moment and each episode is ending on the kind of gut-wrenching cliff hanger that so tempts me to gorge on manga spoilers. Episode 21 is no different; Ligardes is one of the coolest awakened beings yet — his intimidating part-lion transformation perfectly emphasizes his quite unfathomable strength and speed; he radiates killer-instinct and I haven’t a clue how anyone, including Claire, can escape his relentless lust for blood.

My main problem with the series is that it hasn’t been great at building sympathetic characters but after episode 20, I was totally rooting for Undine; at first she seemed like a heartless bitch, but it turned out her abrasive personality and pumped up muscles were all superficial fronts. The scene of her cowering in the corner; shivering, crying and completely exposed immediately transformed her personality. That she dies in episode 21; killed so quickly, no fan-fare, just death, felt shocking and disappointing, but also made it clear that this ain’t no picnic. How can anyone beat Ligardes?

I must be one of the few people to like Raki. I like that he’s weak, but willing to learn. I hope he becomes strong or at least capable of cutting down the generic yoma. I’m not sure what to make of his contact with Isely and Pricilla; why haven’t they killed him? I sense they are more than just superficial bad guys and knowing what monsterous power lurks beneath their skin, I’m quite fascinated by their passive attitudes towards him.

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I loved the build up to the second wave of attacks on Pieta. The silence of the Claymores as they sensed demonic energy on the horizon; the sound of the wind and the blizzard while the awakened beings howl in excitement of battle and then the reverberating bass of their gigantic foot-steps as they near their prey — it’s almost Lords of the Rings-esque, such is the tension in the air. In this moment you can’t help but pity Claire and co., they may well be doomed.

From rambling to first impressions of Turn A Gundam

Moans about anime blogging that somehow lead into my first impressions of Turn A Gundam. Yes, you read that right, please try to contain your excitement!

post-421795-1161075973.jpgLately, I’ve been running a little low on inspiration. Blogging can be great fun, but it’s hard work when the ideas aren’t flowing as freely. In the last week alone, I’ve scrapped two half-written articles simply because they felt like a chore to write, and after all, dear reader, the last thing I want to do is infect you with is my apathy. I’m thoroughly enjoying the likes of Gurren Lagann, Seirei no Moribito and Toward the Terra, yet I’m finding it increasingly difficult to write about any "current" anime at all, if just because I feel like my voice is drowned out by the sea of fandom; you know, I want to say an episode is cool, but its kind of pointless when dozens of others have already said the same thing.

By way of those feelings, over the weekend I started watching Turn A Gundam. Despite its obscure reputation, respected opinions have assured me that Turn A is the best of the post-UC Gundam productions and to be completely honest, the fact Yoko Kanno composed the music is enough to merit a substantial leap of faith anyway.

As of writing, I’m four episodes into the series and so far, I’ve enjoyed it. For a Yoshiyuki Tomino anime, the lead character (effeminate, white-haired teen called Loran played the stellar Romi Paku) is remarkably pleasant, and that the story has so far unfolded on Earth lends a dash a colour and diversity to Tomino’s typically oppressive, space dwelling back-drop. His ideas continue to fascinate me, as does the depth of the universes he creates; personalities, technologies, cultures, rituals; its easy to lose yourself, to believe in the story — the little details are so important.

Turn A is clearly influenced by a Miyazaki style environmental paranoia. The story begins as three kids (from a splinter human settlement on the moon) land on Earth with a mission to investigate the lush green planet and its industrial society. Two years later the army, mobile suits in tow, invades. Based on these four episodes, there is an obvious lamentation of both advanced technology and its irresponsible use, ultimately leading to the pointless desecration of nature as a power struggle escalates into an all out yet completely pointless war. A number of subtexts can be read into the invasion and occupation of Earth by "foreigners", not least of all a post-WWII fear of Western culture and technology occupying traditional Japan.

Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack is another highlight, epic and sweeping as ever, I’m looking forward to further acquainting myself with the OST. High amounts of nudity not withstanding, the animation is fine, clearly hand-drawn and evoking the sense of depth and life that today’s CG dominated, artificial fare has somewhat misplaced.

Anime going mainstream, what’s the point?

The idea that someone would presume to ignore all anime simply because Pokemon sucks. I want to prove them wrong.

001393531.jpgFor whatever reason, I’ve spent the last few years trying to share my passion for anime, hoping to establish new fans, dreaming of a day when I could turn on my TV and find, say, Escaflowne lining up along side The Sopranos. I guess I want more people to understand anime and to know that it has more to offer than its stereotypical reputation may suggest. I think that’s what drives me more than anything else, that sense of injustice, the idea that someone would presume to ignore all anime simply because Pokemon sucks. I want to prove them wrong.

The context of this editorial is an exciting new development for the UK community; we’re getting a completely dedicated (not to mention free!) anime TV channel called “Anime Central“; come September, it will be accessible to millions of digital TV subscribers. Further more, the schedule reads like a dream, matching classics of the caliber of Cowboy Bebop and Escaflowne with new favorites like Planetes and Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for; now or never.

Perhaps I should be careful, what if I get what I wish for? What happens when anime is embraced by the “mainstream”, becomes “cool” and everywhere I look, I see people showing off their NERV t-shirts. Don’t get me wrong, I love anime and always will, but I suppose a part of what fuels my fascination to such a degree is that it’s so obscure; since I can sit in a crowd of hundreds of people and know that I’m the only one that’s watching Gurren Lagann, I feel almost duty bound to recommend it; hence this blog and all the rest, that innate need to scream “anime” from the roof-tops wouldn’t exist if there was no-one worthwhile left to convince.

I must admit I’m fascinated by the populist reaction to anime. We’ve all heard the cliche opinions (anime is porn, didn’t you know?), but now that the masses are getting real exposure to the good stuff (either via TV or the net), I wonder about their reaction, whether or not they will see the light? Or if in the end, it takes a special kind of person to be attracted to anime, a specific taste that will forever confine it to the small niche of dedicated otaku?

Harry Potter, nineteen years later ~ all was well

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I know this is supposed to be bateszi anime blog, but allow me this one-off transgression from the norm; I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and I promised kauldron26 I’d post up some thoughts. Though this may be obvious to some, I’m warning you right now to expect spoilers in this post, the last thing I want to do is ruin any surprises for you — so if you haven’t already read the book, bugger off. My short, spoiler-free opinion is this; I loved it.

Now, I guess I need to emphasize the context of my HP fandom. The truth is this — without J.K. Rowling’s saga, I wouldn’t be reading books, period. That may sound sensational, but I’m somewhat ashamed to say that before I discovered Harry Potter (around about 2003), I was never interested in book-reading. I don’t know why I decided to buy the Philosopher’s Stone; probably the hype had something to do with it, but since then, I’ve been totally and utterly hooked on literature. For me, Harry Potter opened that window into an exciting new world of words and imagination, and for that reason alone, I shall cherish it as more than just another story, it’s become an important milestone in my life.

On that bombshell, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn I’ve loved all of the Harry Potter books. People have complained about this and that, about how the books are too long, overrated, whatever, but I never did. I’ve relished every new chapter, greedily devoured every chance to escape into Hogwarts. I don’t want to read through these books in a matter of days, I want to prolong the feelings and the excitement for as long as possible. My favourite instalment is the Goblet of Fire; I was absolutely on edge during its despair-ridden finale. The sheer shock of Cedric’s sudden death sent shivers down my spine; that’s the moment Harry Potter stops being just some aimless, vaguely-fun adventure and delves into the murky depths of Rowling’s universe; suddenly, the clouds blacken, the sky turns grey and the rain starts pouring.

I’m glad The Deathly Hallows finally revealed Snape’s true motivations. If truth be told, I was getting bored with Harry, Ron and Hermione. They are the heroic central characters, but by now, we know what to expect from them; we knew that Ron will get moody and run off, just like we knew he would end up with Hermione, but it’s totally different with characters like Snape and Draco Malfoy, we’re left guessing about them, left wondering whether or not they are good or evil right up until the last few chapters.

Snape’s undignified demise is the saddest thing in this book. Even when he "murdered" Dumbledore, I still had this sneaking suspicion that he would pull a Darth Vadar and redeem himself at the last possible moment. In the end, it didn’t really work out that way, he never did anything, he just died, but in typical Rowling fashion, his memories, and therefore, his unrequited love, redeemed his blackened soul. It’s hard not to feel moved by his Prince’s Tale chapter. It’s the one true glimpse into Snape’s sad life, his mistakes, his aggression and his insecurity make him my favourite character. A real human in a book of heroes.

If we’re handing out GAR awards, Neville wins hands down. For a start, his name is Neville; the most bookish name ever (followed closely by Percy). When Harry meets him at the Hog’s Head, he sports slashes, bruises and scars all over his face. And finally, despite facing certain doom, Neville looks Voldemort straight in the face and yells "Dumbledore’s Army", and as if that wasn’t enough, soon after, he decapitates the villain’s most precious giant-snake. BALLS OF STEEL; all this from the boy who, in the first book, was an untalented, unconfident oaf!

Thinking back over The Deathly Hallows, one of the most poignant moments comes in The Dursleys Departing. Harry’s step-family was always a cruel bunch of bastards, but in Dudley’s somewhat emotional good-bye, we see a softer side to them. It’s a revealing glimpse into the Dursely’s family dynamic, a sad and all-too-late suggestion that they aren’t such monsters after all. Another surreal interlude involves Dumbledore, another character who, struck down in the past by his own deeds, is searching for redemption. Towards the end, Harry enters a dream-like world and has a final, heavily symbolic meeting with the dead wizard. They sit in chairs facing one-another, but lying "whimpering" on the floor behind Harry is a "small naked child, its skin raw and rough, flayed looking". Dumbledore suggests Harry "cannot help" it. Clearly, it’s symbolic of something, but exactly what is no doubt the subject of a million debates currently raging across the ‘net. Personally, I suspect it’s Dumbledore’s tortured sister; the sister he ignored for years and may well have murdered. He is stuck in that place, unable to forgive himself for what happened. Of course, the "child" could also be interpreted as Voldemort, a man so full of childish greed, ambition and hatred that he is literally beyond help. Any other suggestions, dear reader?

In the end, we got the Hollywood send-off for Harry Potter. Good triumphed over evil, with a few casualties along the way. Fred’s death felt rather forced, almost like a token sacrifice, while Dobby’s tragic and heroic end was so much more powerful. The final words, "all was well", in Rowling’s homely writing style, sums it up quite nicely. The nineteen years later chapter was a nice touch, millions of people have literally grown up with these characters and to leave them like this, with smiling faces, waving off their own children to Hogwarts was a poetic way to well and truly close the story. Saying goodbye is always the hardest.

Please embrace the brilliance of Toward the Terra

I’m writing all this because I’m falling for Toward the Terra.

1949q.jpgA lot of great anime premiered in the 2007 spring season. In fact, there is too much to mention, and for that reason, I suppose many people overlooked Toward the Terra. I struggled through the first four or five episodes and was feeling pretty apathetic about it myself.

The truth is that it begins with a very cliche first five episodes — basically, our hero Jomy, the blonde pretty boy with psychic powers, inadvertently uncovers this gigantic government conspiracy and after barely escaping with his life, joins the rebel forces in escaping the genocidal forces of mankind. It’s fairly standard science fiction stuff, especially in this post-Matrix era, and it seems worse because it’s directed in such a melodramatic fashion.

Everything changes when we meet Keith Anyan, an artificial human groomed by "mother" (the all controlling computer system) to be the perfect soldier. Keith is the primary villain of the show, but when we first meet him, he is but a promising young man training for an "elite" career in the military. There is little or no hint of the demon that as of episode 17, willingly unleashes the "flames of hell" by firing the Megido, a gigantic, planet destroying weapon worthy of Gunbuster.

I’m writing all this because I’m falling for Toward the Terra. It makes exciting use of a fascinating narrative structure that, over the last 17 installments, has made several decade-long time leaps; we’ve seen confused teenagers growing into charismatic leaders as an entire race of people (the Mu — Jomy’s race of psychic humans) immigrate across space and settle on an uninhabited planet, only to be blasted off when the humans hunt them down. There are no fillers or "padding" episodes, every scene is dense with plot, moving the narrative ever onwards. As it turns out, Towards the Terra has a lot to say.

This is a series that doesn’t much care for human nature and our fear of the unknown. Understandably, the Mu just want to live in peace, but typically, us humans aren’t having it. This is underpinned with a healthy mistrust of technology — as pointed out above, modern man is controlled for his own good by "mother"; an evil computer system apparently inflicted with the same fears, discrimination and concerns as ourselves.

Jomy and Keith are two sides of the same coin; Jomy’s an ardent pacifist with his heart set on peace, only using his immense powers to protect, while Keith is the perfect soldier; he follows every order, no matter how morally redundant; he is programmed to hate – he is a monster. On an individual basis, the Mu is so much stronger than the average human, yet they are good-willed people, and therefore, pushovers. However, that’s all about to change as in one of the most interesting developments yet, the latest generation of Mu children born on the destroyed planet of Nasca have inherited that "will of the flame" and like their human enemies, are strong-willed, aggressive and powerful. The message? Hate begets hate. Basically, the bully is about to get pay-back; sucks to be human!

untitled-1.jpgIt’s an interesting twist of ideologies. Jomy will have to try and reign in on the growing aggression within the Mu and teach them that an eye for an eye will do nothing but perpetuate the violence, while Keith, sooner or later, will be forced to question his orders and recognise the value of every life, human or otherwise.

With all this in mind, I have to admit that I’m disappointed by the small number of people watching Toward the Terra. No doubt, many will be turned off by the straight laced, conservative characterisation; there is little to no humour, crude fan-service or eccentricities; it’s very serious. Similarly, the retro-1980s aesthetic is rarely popular these days. All of this, coupled with the generic opening episodes, appear to have resulted in a relatively small audience and honestly, it’s a great shame – the thought provoking and fascinating Toward the Terra deserves better.